That September I had notification from the Training Officer that I was to begin my day release and two evening classes at the Wakefield Technical College. Monday was the specified day. Tuesdays and Thursdays, 7 till 9 were the evenings.
At college we were to be instructed in all the subjects of our previous training but at a much deeper level. I enjoyed my day release from work but the two evenings were a bit of a bind. I was now courting Brenda seriously.
Just after starting college Bennie Wilkie approached me with the proposal that I become his assistant. His previous assistant had taken up duties at a nearby pit as a full Safety/Training Officer. Ben outlined the duties that I would be undertaking and assured me it was a responsible job. I immediately agreed to the prospect. The job appealed to me, there would be little manual work attached to the new job. I was sixteen and a half and I had the exulted title of Assistant Safety Officer. The title cut no ice with my mates; they jeered and called me ‘Bennie Wilkie’s Bum Boy’
The first day in my new job, Ben had left instructions to meet him at the pit bottom at ten o’clock. He was to take a party of civic VIPs on a tour of the mine. When Ben and his party arrived underground there were eight persons in all, three of them were women.
Ben suggested that the party follow him in single file and that I brought up the rear. We were going to take a general tour of the workings. We were walking inbye and came upon a pony driver, Archie Brook, whose full tubs had been derailed. He was bending over with his back to us, straining to lift the tubs back on to the rails. His trousers were torn from the fly hole, round underneath the crotch, almost to his waist at the rear. He obviously was not wearing any undergarments. It looked as if he was wearing two half pairs of trousers.
As we came upon Archie his wedding tackle was showing to all and sundry. Normally such a sight down a pit is not worth a second glance, but with the ladies present Ben was a little embarrassed. Not only was the pony driver showing all his manhood, he was swearing about almost everything and everybody. He had not noticed who we were because without turning round the driver said, “Give us a hand mate with these (Expletive) tubs.”
Ben waved to me to give him a hand. As we lifted the tubs back to the rails it was then that Archie noticed Ben and the ladies in our party. He turned to Ben and said, “Sorry Bennie I didn’t realise it was you.” and then laughingly turned to the ladies and said. “This is the second pair of trousers I’ve ruined today. Sorry about my language.” Ben accepted this apology without comment and we continued on our way. A successful tour of the pit was carried out with the VIPs giving us their compliments.
Two days later Ben handed me a parcel that contained an old pair of Ben’s trousers. I was instructed to give them to the pony driver who we had met whilst taking the VIPs on a tour of the mine. Ben was a large man, especially round the middle. When I handed them to Archie, he fell about laughing; I’ve got to admit so did I. When he put them on, over his own trousers he looked like a circus clown. There was no way he could wear them and he told me so in no uncertain terms. I explained they were given in good faith and he calmed down. But there was no way he would wear them he would be the laughing stock of the pit. I reported back to Ben that the trousers had been gratefully received.
Once a month, part of my new duties was the taking of dust samples. As described earlier, coal dust in its raw state is potentially very explosive. When any explosion occurs the concussion wave that precedes the fire causes the dust to rise into the air, so providing fuel for a chain reaction. The coal dust can be ‘diluted’ and rendered comparatively harmless by the spreading of stone dust.
Stone dust is white limestone dust that is delivered down the pit in hundred weight paper sacks. The person spreading the dust stands upstream of the air current, and using his hands scatters it all around the sides and floor of the roadway. This scattering of dust only adds to the general dusty atmosphere of a mine.
Dust barriers were situated at certain key points, these were a platform like apparatus that was erected near the roof and the platform was filled with loose stone dust. In the event of an explosion the barriers were designed to fall. The stone dust would be spread out with the concussion wave and hopefully halt the explosive chain reaction.
The mining regulation at that time required that samples of dust be submitted to the area mining laboratories for analysis. All roadways where men or air travelled have to be sampled. The safety officer instructed me on the dust sampling duties and gave me the written mining regulations that covered this subject, to study.
The method of sampling was that mine plans had been prepared and zones of sampling designated. My duties were to work to the plan. I had to walk down the roadway in a zigzag pattern collecting dust from the roof, walls and floor. I had a small brush to sweep the dust into a round brass 60 mesh sieve. The sieved fine dust collected into a holding bottom. A portion of the sample was then placed in small envelopes and marked with a code that corresponded to the mine plans.
I enjoyed the task of dust sampling, within reason I could take as long as I wanted over the task. I was allowed to travel to the surface as the need arose. I travelled the whole area of the mine workings as my duties required. I had the run of the pit. No one ever questioned where I was or what I was doing as I was answerable only to the Manager, the Under Manager or the Safety Officer.